Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kansas and Oklahoma CBC trip, Day 1

In the week between Christmas and New Year's 2006 I managed a trip as far west as New Mexico, then back to western Oklahoma and Kansas to participate in two Christmas Bird Counts. I hoped to add some safety numbers to my OK bird list. I had been advised by Lief Anderson, who has over 8000 total tics, (that's the sum of all the species seen in each state, so he's averaging over 160 per state) that it was best to get some excess species on a state list, since new birds were being found regularly. Also to add some new tics to KS, which I aim to break threshold on in 2006 (that's to be listed in the ABA big year guide. It requires seeing more than half the species ever seen in a state, and requires some focused effort). I had hoped to get into Colorado and find some Rosy-finches wintering at low altitude feeders, but my time got squeezed by job entropy, and I had dropped that part of the plan by the time I escaped town.

I got away from home about 6:30 Tuesday morning, and was birding in Tulsa by 10;30. First stop was Lynn Lane Reservoir, a water supply impoundment on the east side of town. Both Black and White-winged Scoters had been seen there, and either would have been new for OK. I tried the first obvious parking place, across from the treatment plant, worrying about theft, and although the lake was covered with ducks, I couldn't make out any scoters. I started driving around going west but couldn't get reasonably close, and no parking either. Only when I got all the way back to the east side did I find another access. And another birder. He was scoping the birds in the shallow end, there were hundreds, and I thouhgt I had it made. I didn't get his name, but he was newly retired and looking forward to birding a lot. He hadn't found the Scoters, so we joined up and headed for the next parking place, and there we found the Black fairly quickly. It wasn't very black, more nondescript gray, a first year female apparently, but black enough to count. I never did find the White-winged.

I had picked the man's brain about some of my other target birds, particularly Widgeons, and he said to watch the farm ponds heading north. I was on my way to try for the Snowy Owl reported south of Bowring so that fit well. I'd slow a little to watch the ponds, and if one had some waterfowl, I'd stop to look more carefully. About the fifth or sixth stop I found a Widgeon, and a bonus small gaggle of Cackling Geese among the Canadas. That helped, and I followed the directions to the Snowy. Also managed to find American Tree Sparrows along the county road, which I had figured should appear without too much trouble.

I got to the area where the Owl was supposed to be and started driving the side roads slowly scanning the ground in all directions. I wasn't having any luck when I met some other birders, one of whom was Pat Velt, who I had met the previous spring in Oklahoma City at Lake Hefner. Also her friend Terri(?). I don't have an account of that trip on the blog. Maybe I'll try to reconstruct it sometime. We exchanged cell phone numbers in case either was successful, and split up. Half an hour later and some driving on more obscure dirt roads still hadn't paid off, and we were getting discouraged. I started north toward a couple of Lakes that had also reported WW scoters, and after about two miles found several cars parked along the road. And a big ol' female Snowy Owl sitting on the ground, not twenty feet off the road, amongst some grazing cattle. One older gentleman from Bartlesville was snapping away with a huge lens while his wife waited not-very-patiently in their car. He said the bird hadn't moved much, except to peck at a cow when it got too close and curious. There were quite a few fluffs of contour feathers around the bird in the grass, which didn't seem right.

I called Pat, and she was there in minutes, and very pleased. More big lenses. More cars arrived too and it got to be a hazard for the locals who only cared to get to point B. I stayed about a half hour, and Pat promised to send a pic. Two days later the owl was captured by a rehabber, since it was getting quite obviously sick. It had a wounded wing which was badly infected. I heard not a gunshot, tho that was the initial rumor. The bird died in the clinic, unable to cope with the infection and the antibiotics in its also weakened-from-starvation condition.

After leaving the owl and it's attendant cattle and birders, one worshipping grass, the other the feather quest (Pete Dunne's phrase), I looped north and back east to check another lake for the WW Scoter, also swans had been reported, but none showed for me. The wind was rising and cold, and presumably critters had hunkered down in the coves. The original trip plan had included a stop at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge (hereafter NWR) but the days lost before leaving meant something had to go. I figured on finding lots of nw OK birds at the Black Mesa CBC, so chose to skip that stop. I drove well west of there to where I'd found Boiling Springs State Park on the map, liked the name, and needed rest. It wasn't that easy to find, roads that seemed like they should go there died out at 5 strand barb-wire fences, and I had to loop around and back to finally get in. It was late, it was deserted, I was tired, I crashed in the camper-shell. Slept well, usually do on these marathon trips.


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